We’ve been travelling the pathway to 5G for quite a while now, but it still feels like only yesterday that 4G made a momentous entrance to the mobile connectivity scene. More than eight years later, our modern 4G networks often perform better and more reliably than many wired networks. Music streaming on the go, high-quality video calls and download speeds pushing 50 megabits per second are all part of our daily lives.
Most of us can agree there has been a fair amount of hype around 5G. Despite this, the standards bodies have consistently delivered ahead of schedule. True to form, they have now delivered the final part of the 5G foundation – the 5G standalone network specification. Put simply, this means that infrastructure providers now have a final specification they can work to when building equipment for network operators.
Notwithstanding the hype, 5G will be just as impactful as 4G once was. In the not too distant future, we’ll see speeds up to ten times faster than we are currently used to, and network latency in the single digit milliseconds. It’s not unlikely that eight years from now, we could be waxing nostalgic about virtual reality, remote-controlled robotics, telemedicine and driverless cars.
The age of 5G
5G will have a real impact on homes, businesses and communities. A recent whitepaper from O2 suggests 5G could save the UK’s local authorities up to £2.8bn a year, by increasing efficiencies in areas such as smart street-lighting and more efficient rubbish collections. The white paper predicts 5G will be responsible for bringing an extra 1.3m electric cars onto the road, and that the average UK household will be £450 better off every year, through reduced energy usage, food waste and council bills.
It may sound particularly futuristic, but the 5G revolution may be closer than you think. BT is planning to have commercial 5G products launching in the UK within the next 18 months, while Deutsche Telekom has just activated a 5G New Radio (NR) Cluster in downtown Berlin, where it will use the test bed to see how next-generation networks perform in real-life situations, ahead of a proposed commercial launch in 2020. In the US, AT&T is preparing for 5G deployments in 12 U.S. markets this year.
Through its Urban Connected Communities Project, the UK government is leading a series of significant 5G trials. The project includes creating the very first 5G city, which will be selected later this summer to receive investment in the millions to develop 5G technologies such as traffic management, remote subject matter experts (think doctors) and virtual reality tourist attractions.
Next generation communications
There’s no doubt 5G is well on its way, and that its impact on wireless communications will be significant. As we approach 5G, here are some areas worth thinking about:
- 5G will work with 4G, not replace it
4G was designed to replace both 3G and 2G, but that isn’t the case with 5G. The new generation will work hand in hand with 4G, with carriers providing an active combination to give customers the best possible service at all times. The most likely scenario is that 4G will act as a national baseline network, with super-fast 5G speeds offered in more built-up areas. Alternatively, 5G could be deployed alongside 4G, with customers gradually being migrated over time. Whatever happens, carriers will continue to invest in 4G, which will evolve and improve to make integration with 5G even easier and more consistent. And customers investing in 4G-capable, 5G-ready solutions don’t have to wait to take advantage of the benefits these solutions bring – today.
- 5G will be the IoT key
The Internet of Things (IoT) data flood is perfectly timed with the arrival of 5G networks. 5G will accelerate adoption of IoT, helping it reach its full potential by transporting intelligence, processing power and communication capabilities across networks, mobile devices and connected sensors. It’s not just about speed; 5G also offers slower speeds with frequencies that travel farther from cell sites into buildings that contain IoT devices. This means longer battery life for many devices, sometimes up to 10 years.
- This is only the beginning for 5G
5G will take some time to establish itself. While many network operators and providers will soon offer 5G products and services, a full industry transition and consumer rollout is still some way off. The upcoming 5G trials will be just that, only providing a temporary, restricted framework. Initially, we will only see fixed wireless access, with increasing mobility added over time.
- 5G will change networking
The promise of unrivalled wireless speed and consistency will require some changes in the way networks operate. Providers will need to harness Software-defined Networks (SDN) to handle 5G’s throughput capabilities and scalability. With SDN, new functionality can be built and added on a software-based timeline, rather than the traditional (and slower) hardware timeline, ensuring networks are more agile and more efficient. This is particularly relevant to IoT. More than 50 billion devices are predicted to be online by 2020 – SDN is the only viable way to ensure networks can secure and manage this additional traffic. Many forward-thinking organisations have already been extensively testing and deploying SDN as a means to lower costs and increase bandwidth across their corporate networks.
While the world waits for 5G, 4G will continue to improve and offer a pathway to 5G. Current applications will be enhanced, ready for the next generation in wireless connectivity. The two generations are not so different and will work in harmony to manage the world’s evolving connectivity demands more efficiently. The complete transition will take time, but we will soon see wireless speeds far exceeding those we currently enjoy. 5G will be a game changer, but both operators and providers need to stay ahead of the revolution. We need to ensure the correct support is in place to manage the changes before we can realise its potential.
Sourced by Lindsay Notwell, Senior Vice President of 5G Strategy & Global Carrier Operations at Cradlepoint
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